The ongoing water crisis in Zimbabwe's capital Harare has been a major concern for residents and businesses alike, with severe supply shortages experienced over the past months. However, recent interventions by the government have led to a marked improvement in water availability across the city, bringing some relief to the struggling population.
According to the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, bulk water production for Harare has more than doubled over the past few weeks - increasing from 150 mega litres per day to around 350 mega litres. This boost in supply can be attributed to the urgent response by the government, which set up a technical committee in October tasked with developing and executing a comprehensive water emergency plan for the city.
The committee is chaired by University of Zimbabwe engineering lecturer, Professor Hodson Makurira, and has focused its efforts on securing funding for essential water treatment chemicals which were in critically short supply. A total of US$1.2 million has now been disbursed by the Treasury for this purpose, with payments being made directly to the suppliers rather than passing through City Council channels. This measure was implemented to ensure the funds are utilised for their allocated purpose.
According to Chief Director Engineer Tinayeshe Mutazu, the interventions by Makurira's committee have successfully "arrested the deterioration" of Harare's water supply system. The increase from 150 to 350 mega litres per day still falls short of the installed daily production capacity of 520 mega litres - but is a major improvement nonetheless. The ultimate aim is to reach and exceed that target.
The principal factor underlying the water shortages until now has been Harare City Council's inability to procure adequate water treatment chemicals, due to desperately low rates of revenue collection. The council's billing system has essentially collapsed in recent years, leaving the local authority without the finances to maintain bulk water infrastructure.
Recognising that Harare was facing challenges with epidemics like cholera on their hands - the government stepped in with emergency funding channelled directly to service providers rather than through the council. While there has undoubtedly been serious mismanagement of water services by city authorities, Mutazu acknowledges that resolving the crisis requires a collaborative effort from all stakeholders at this stage.
To that end, Makurira's technical committee provides weekly progress reports to facilitate rapid decision-making and ongoing monitoring of water availability. Beyond the short-term goals of improving supply and quality for Harare residents, the committee has also been given a broader mandate for the coming months.
This includes reducing non-revenue water loss from the current 59% down to 55%; and increasing potable water coverage across the city from 40% of suburbs to 60%. Non-revenue water refers to treated water that is lost through leaks, theft or faulty metering before reaching the end consumer. Tackling this while improving overall supply is therefore a key priority.
For city residents and business owners who have struggled through months of severe water rationing, the latest supply improvements will come as a relief. But sustained efforts are still required to address the underlying challenges and ensure Harare's water infrastructure can meet the needs of its growing population.
The formation of Makurira's expert technical committee nevertheless demonstrates the seriousness with which the government is now prioritising the crisis. With sufficient support from international partners as well, Zimbabwe's capital is making strides towards restoring stable, quality water supply for years to come.